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Leading Cultures of Research & Innovation

When & where?

This HEE funded initiative was first augmented in the North West then the North East and from January 2020, the Yorkshire and Humber region.

Aim & content:

The “Leading Cultures of Research & Innovation” programme offers a novel and innovative opportunity to enhance leadership development. 

NHS R&D NW work creatively with up to 25 middle managers from a range of clinical backgrounds to support them in leading a culture of research and innovation by building their leadership capacity to develop the skills and confidence to create an effective culture within their units, wards/departments. The focus of the training explores research and innovation culture specifically because we know that NHS organisations that are more research active have better patient outcomes [1].  This project design is informed by the domains of the Healthcare Leadership Model [2] and by the evaluation of the NHS R&D NW Academy of Creative Minds which was developed for the dissemination of health research but showed participation led to significant increase in individual levels of confidence, creativity and self belief [3], skills essential to good leadership.

NHS R&D NW has identified a strong commitment from service managers to the integration of research and innovation into their teams but also found limitations in knowledge regarding the research and innovation policy agendas and lack of personal confidence in providing leadership in this area [4].  Middle management influence is crucial to a whole systems talent management strategy. Managing, nurturing and keeping staff engaged and motivated is key to an organisation’s ability to provide high-quality care.

The Five Year Forward view is committed to research and wants to accelerate useful health innovation and speed up the adoption of cost effective innovation. All three STPS in the North West also recognise that to make the changes they want in the health of their populations they need to embrace innovation, evidence and proven best practice to shape services. To do this we need a culture of research and innovation in our health organisations and middle managers that have the skills and confidence to invest locally and grow a culture that embraces it.

The “Leading Cultures of Research & Innovation” project offers a novel and innovative programme of leadership development informed by NHS R&D NW stakeholder engagement and the overarching plans of the STPS and The 5 year Forward view.

This leadership course is based primarily on two previous programmes of work delivered and evaluated by NHS Research & Development North West.

It is a combination of a “leading clinical teams” programme funded by Health Education England [5] from 2013-2016 and the Academy of Creative Minds an immersive programme for health researchers and professionals to work with creative artists to learn how to communicate their work more effectively and help increase its impact. Participants from these programmes demonstrated increased knowledge, confidence and understanding of the research landscape and culture and how to lead more effectively.

“Leaders must reclaim the very thing our culture has so casually given away: Time to think together and learn from our experiences” Margaret Wheatley

The programme is led by leadership professionals, R&D professionals, creative writers, performance coaches, magicians and somatic experts. This unique team work with middle managers in a blended learning approach that helps them to:-

  • Develop knowledge & understanding of national, regional and organisational R&I agendas
  • Explore and increase individual understanding of how organisational cultures are formed and shaped by leaders
  • Explore and develop skills and expertise to improve confidence and creativity to facilitate and lead cultures of R&I
  • Have the opportunity to develop and benefit from a community of practice within their health economy
  • Know how to lead an effective team based on the work of Professor Michael West [6]
  • Explore how digital technology can enable communication and support healthy communities and culture within their working environment
  • Be open to new ideas and ready to embrace health innovations.

Why is there a need for this programme?

“Because NHS organisations that are more research active have better patient outcomes.”

R&D NW identified limitations in knowledge within middle management regarding research and innovation policy agendas. There was a lack of personal confidence in providing leadership in this area. The reason this is important is because ‘middle management influence’ is crucial to a whole-systems talent-management strategy. Managing, nurturing and keeping staff engaged is key to an organisation’s ability to provide high-quality care.

R&D NW has been working with middle managers from a broad range of clinical backgrounds. We support them in leading a culture of research and innovation. We do this by building their leadership capacity and helping them develop the skills and confidence to create an effective culture within their workplace. To compliment this mission, we developed the Leading Cultures of R&I course. 






[6]  Michael A. West, 2012, Effective Teamwork: Practical Lessons from Organizational Research (Psychology of Work and Organizations), Third Edition, BPS Blackwell.

2020 course outline:

Prior to the course, all 25 participants were invited to join an exclusive online community and start to connect with the course leaders and other course participants to share their expectations of the course and anticipated learning outcomes.

The programme then commenced with a two day residential. Participants were taken together on a coach, to a “secret” destination, which created a sense of excitement but also bonding of the group as they experienced the unknown together (this is a technique used by tech innovation facilitation leaders. The venue was a conference centre/ hotel in the relevant region). The residential was important to create a safe space for participants to learn without distraction and also to start to build both the physical and online community, which would be invaluable to their learning journey on the programme and throughout their careers.

The first day of the course started on the coach with a number of exercises designed to enable the group to get to know each other, then continue on arrival to help them relax after their journey, have fun, and prepare for being challenged (Think Coach Trip!). This was followed with some initial work on culture and making a case for research, development, and innovation. Following this, there was a practical session on the digital community.

The second part of the day explored personal confidence with regard to communication both written and oral, working with a creative writer and performance coach. After dinner on the evening of the first day there was a speaker with expertise in the area of developing a culture of R&I from the health and social care sector.

Day 2 started with further learning about factors/dimensions that create/enable cultures, know what is meant by cultures of R&I and the conditions that enable them, appreciating their role as leaders in enabling a culture of R&I. The afternoon offered a creative challenge for them to think about and identify their development needs/learning outcomes. The day concluded with the participants being encouraged to use some of their creative learning to communicate these needs to the rest of the group.

Following the residential, the participants continued to learn and connect through the online community, as they set out to achieve their personal goals. Learning materials were shared in this online community as the programme progressed, for debate and discussion and a co-mentoring approach will be encouraged.

We then invited attendees back for two further one-day workshops

Day 3 started with learning about having a vision, networking and collaborating and the afternoon was co-created with the participants to deliver a session tailored to the specific requirements identified by the group.

Day 4 The day started with learning about leading teams and developing a strategy and finish with each participant sharing their individual learning journey with the group using all the creative tools and techniques and more, detailing their personal plan and commitment to lead R&I within their teams.

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